Brown-Burton, Westheimer seek the Bar’s presidency
Veteran Board of Governors members Lorna E. Brown-Burton and F. Scott Westheimer have qualified as candidates for Florida Bar president-elect in the 2022 election cycle.
Qualifying closed December 15. Ballots will be mailed on or before March 1 by the Bar’s election company and as in past years, members will have the option of voting by paper ballot or online. Ballots must be returned by 11:59 p.m. on March 21.
The winner will be sworn in as president-elect at the Bar’s June Annual Convention (when current President-elect Gary Lesser takes the oath as president) and then assume office as president at the 2023 convention.
The News will publish platform statements and a Q&A with the candidates, both online and in the February printed edition.
“Being of service has been my mission both as an individual and as a lawyer and has shaped my five guiding principles in who I am,” Brown-Burton said of her decision to run for president. “With the guiding principles as my foundation and service being in my DNA along with my passion about my work as an attorney and counselor of law, Bar service came naturally to me. As president I will give a voice to the everyday working lawyer and for a Bar that provides all the resources and tools necessary for each and every member to be the success they desire.”
Westheimer said he’s running “because I want to be able to truly help all our members, from the solo practitioner and small law firms (which are 70% of our Bar), government lawyers (which are approximately 16% of our Bar), to the big firm and in-house lawyers, with their day-to-day practices, their business, and their quality of life, health and wellness, and to provide them with tangible tools and resources to succeed. We are in transformational times, and as we get back to whatever our new normal is, The Florida Bar needs to support our members in meaningful, practical ways.”
Brown-Burton, of Ft. Lauderdale, said the main challenges facing the Bar are protecting the independence of the judiciary, increasing access to the courts for all Floridians, and supporting Bar members in their practices.
“The judicial branch is a coequal and independent branch of government. Maintaining that independence is critical to the protection of our citizenry and a free society,” she said.
Courts must be supported “to solve the major inventory of cases,” Brown-Burton added. “Access to justice in our legal system is a fundamental right granted by our Constitution to all Floridians.”
She wants to help Florida lawyers “with necessary and adequate resources to facilitate the growth and enhancement of the members’ business and daily practice while continuing to ensure the members’ physical and mental well-being. While there are a few member benefits that highlight what the Bar does for the members, there is still more the Bar can do to effectively and proactively communicate all its member benefits.”
Brown-Burton said her three priorities are to support the funding and independence of the courts, continue the work of the Bar’s Special Committee for the Review of Professionalism, which is nearing its final report, and better communicate to lawyers about the Bar’s member benefits, including those that promote physical and mental health.
“Critical” to supporting the courts “and the integrity of the legal system is that the Bar remains unified. Also important is working collaboratively with all stakeholders, including the Legislature, to look at all resources and opportunities available for adequate funding of our court system,” Brown-Burton said. “Additionally, technological advances can streamline the process and facilitate the handling of the backlog for the delivery of access.”
Brown-Burton said she wants to see the recommendations of the professionalism special committee carried out “as well as promoting and educating our members on the rules of ethics and professionalism at the highest level starting with law students and new attorneys at the early stages of their careers with an ongoing proactive process through every stage of our legal career while also utilizing software technology to further support the practice.”
Working with sections, committees, divisions, and voluntary bars, Brown-Burton said she wants to improve communications about member benefits.
“This will require two areas of focus. First is the support and strengthening of programs and resources that will grow and sustain a law practice,” she said. “Second is the growth and enhancement of our physical and mental health through continuing to provide such programs and expanding these programs to include physical health and care-giving services.”
Westheimer, of Sarasota, said he sees challenges for the Bar as maintaining core values and professionalism with new technology and remote practicing, protecting the integrity of the profession, and ensuring access to justice.
“Our profession is built upon relationships, and we need to continue to foster them in this new hybrid reality. The practice of law is going to have to find the proper balance between virtual and live interactions in the future to maintain the tenets of professionalism that are critical to our profession,” Westheimer said.
As for integrity, Westheimer said he opposes recent proposals that would allow nonlawyer minority ownership in law firms and fee splitting with nonlawyers.
Those ideas “are extremely dangerous to the public, would negatively impact the integrity of our profession and professionalism, and could undermine the independence of the judiciary,” he said, adding challenges to unified state bars must be defended.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the difficulties of ensuring access to justice, Westheimer said, and the profession should work with the Legislature and others to ensure courts have adequate funding for technology, facilities, and staff to address the backlogs.
He said his top priorities are helping members with their practices and quality of life, defending the independence of the judiciary including keeping the Bar as a self-regulating entity, and improving communications with members.
To help members, the Bar in recent years has created LegalFuel, the IT Helpline — efforts he spearheaded — and the Florida Lawyers Helpline, Westheimer said.
He added, “Some examples of the things that I would focus on are free trust accounting software; free case management software; tool kits for government lawyers with free CLEs; additional cyber security education and tools; additional health, wellness, and quality of life resources; and other member benefits to support the ever changing needs of attorneys.”
Westheimer said he would “maintain and defend the independence of the judiciary, as a co-equal and independent branch of government, as well as the Bar’s ability to self-regulate under its current administrative structure. We must be vigilant to protect The Florida Bar’s status as a mandatory bar and strongly oppose dangerous proposals that would harm the public.”
He said he would enhance communications and outreach by supporting diversity and inclusion throughout the Bar and its leadership, improve synergy by working with voluntary bars and Bar sections and divisions on joint programming, and provide more resources and measurable tools that help members with their lives and practices.
Brown-Burton was admitted to The Florida Bar in 1987, after getting her undergraduate degree in Business Administration from the University of Florida and her law degree from the Nova University Center for the Study of Law, where she also sits on the law school’s Board of Governors. She is also admitted in the U.S. Southern District of Florida.
She primarily practices in workers’ compensation defense, but also represents clients in Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy matters and in real property law.
Brown-Burton is a partner at Lubbell|Rosen, where she manages the Workers’ Compensation Defense Practice Group. Since joining the Bar, she has worked for several private firms before forming her own in 2004 and then merging that into Brown-Burton & DeMicco in 2014.
She is a member of the Workers’ Compensation, Labor and Employment Law, Business Law, and Real Property, Probate and Trust Law sections of the Bar. Brown-Burton has sat on the Board of Governors since 2012 and previously served on the Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors. She has served two three-year terms on 17th Circuit Bar grievance committees, including as chair of one.
Brown-Burton is a member of numerous local and voluntary bar associations and of various charitable and civic groups, and is a past president and director of the Legal Aid Service of Broward County. Her community service includes serving on the Coral Springs Community Redevelopment Agency and working with groups ranging from the Girl Scouts of America to the Women of Color Empowerment Institute.
Since joining the Board of Governors in 2012, Brown-Burton has served on the Communications, Budget, Disciplinary Procedure, Disciplinary Review, Strategic Planning, and Program Evaluation committees and the Board Review Committee on Professional Ethics. She has served three years on the Executive Committee. She has chaired the Citizens Advisory Committee, a committee screening judicial nominating commission applicants, a special committee on implementing the Bar’s strategic plan, a special committee developing the Bar executive director succession plan, and a special committee to improve communications with Bar sections, divisions, and committees and with voluntary bars.
Brown-Burton is married to Arezell Burton, and has a stepdaughter, Christy.
Westheimer has been a Bar member since 1996 and received his undergraduate degree (in History) from the University of Florida and law degree from the UF Levin College of Law.
He primarily represents plaintiffs in personal injury and commercial litigation, handling complex personal injury, automobile and motorcycle accident, and premises and product liability cases and commercial litigation. Aside from the Bar, he is admitted to the U.S. Middle District Court and the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
He joined Syprett Meshad, P.A., as an associate in 1996, became a partner in 2000, and has been managing partner since 2002.
Westheimer belongs to numerous voluntary bar associations and is a past president of the Sarasota County Bar Association and the Sarasota County Bar Association Young Lawyers Division. He also served on the Bar Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors.
Among his numerous civic and charitable activities, Westheimer served on the board of directors of the Humane Society of Sarasota from 2009-16, and is a trustee of the UF College of Law Board of Trustees and served on the college’s Law Alumni Council.
Since joining the Board of Governors in 2013, Westheimer has chaired the Program Evaluation Committee, the Disciplinary Review Committee, the Communications Committee (twice), and has served five years on the Executive Committee. He has also served on the Legislation, Strategic Planning, Technology, and Disciplinary Procedure committees, the Special Committee on Technologies Affecting the Practice of Law and chaired a committee screening JNC applicants.
Westheimer is married to wife Tia and has two children, Ayla, 7, and Arie, 17 months.
Both Brown-Burton and Westheimer are AV rated by Martindale Hubbell and have received numerous awards and citations from other legal organizations and rating services.